Buford Pusser changed from a cop hell-bent on battling crime to a man hell-bent on avenging his wife’s death after his wife was murdered.
On August 12, 1967, just before daybreak, McNairy County Sheriff Buford Pusser received a call about a disturbance on a side road outside of town. Despite the fact that it was still early, his wife Pauline chose to accompany him on his investigation. A automobile drew up beside theirs as they drove through the little Tennessee hamlet toward the scene of the commotion.
The occupants of the automobile opened fire on the Pusser’s car, killing Pauline and injuring Pusser. Pusser was left for dead after being hit by two shots on the left side of his jaw. It took 18 days and three procedures for him to recuperate, but he made it.
He had just one thought when he went home with his wounded jaw and no wife: vengeance. If it was the last thing he did, Buford Pusser pledged then that if it was the last thing he did, he would bring everyone who killed his wife to justice.
Buford Pusser was formerly a decent guy before becoming a vengeful widower. He was born and raised in McNairy County, Tennessee, where he excelled at basketball and football in high school, owing to his 6-foot 6-inch height. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school, but was medically discharged owing to his asthma. He then relocated to Chicago and began working as a local wrestler.
His bulk and strength earned him the moniker “Buford the Bull,” and his accomplishments garnered him notoriety in his hometown. Pusser met his future wife, Pauline, in Chicago. They married in December 1959 and moved back to Pusser’s family home two years later.
Despite being only 25 years old at the time, he was chosen chief of police and constable, a position he held for two years. He was elected sheriff in 1964 when the previous sheriff was killed in a vehicle accident. He was only 27 years old at the time, making him Tennessee’s youngest sheriff.
Buford Pusser poured himself into his work as soon as he was elected. He first went after the Dixie Mafia and the State Line Mob, two groups that operated on the Tennessee-Mississippi border and profited handsomely from the illicit sale of moonshine.
Several assassination attempts were made against Pusser over the next three years. The entire tri-state area’s mob lords were out to get him, as his attempts to purge the community of criminal activity had been highly successful. He’d been shot three times by 1967, fought numerous hitmen attempting to murder him, and was regarded as a local hero.
Then tragedy came with Pauline’s death. Many felt the hit was an assassination attempt on Buford Pusser’s life, with his wife as an unintentional victim. Pusser’s sorrow over his wife’s death was overpowering, driving him to cold-blooded vengeance.
Soon after the shooting, he identified his four assassins, as well as Kirksey McCord Nix Jr., the Dixie Mafia’s head, as the mastermind behind the ambush. Nix was never brought to justice, but Pusser made sure that others would be, and he cracked down on illegal activity in the area more than ever.
Carl “Towhead” White, one of the hitmen, was shot and killed by another hitman several years later. Although the rumors were never proved, many people assumed Pusser hired the assassin to assassinate him. Two of the other killers were discovered shot to death in Texas several years later. Pusser was accused of killing both of them, although he was never found guilty.
Nix was later imprisoned for a separate murder and was eventually sentenced to life in isolation. Though Pusser would have thought Nix’s isolation was justified, he never saw it happen. He was killed in a vehicle accident in 1974. He was killed after being catapulted from his car after hitting an embankment on his way home from the local county fair.
Because Nix had been able to organize multiple unrelated hits from prison, both Buford Pusser’s daughter and mother felt he had been murdered. The allegations, however, were never examined. Pusser’s lengthy quest for justice appeared to be coming to an end.
In the house where Buford Pusser grew up, a memorial now sits in McNairy County. Several films based on his life have been released, including Walking Tall, which recounts the guy who cleaned up a village, was caught in the middle of an assassination attempt, and spent the rest of his life hell-bent on retribution for those who had wronged his family.
He died on August 21, 1974 in an auto accident
- “Buford Pusser Home & Museum”. Bufordpussermuseum.com. December 25, 1968. Retrieved November 16, 2010.
- Birdwell, Michael E. (October 8, 2017). “Biography, Bufford Pusser”. Tennessee Encyclopedia.net. Nashville, TN: Tennessee Historical Society.
- Bumgarner, Jeff (2008). Icons of Crime Fighting. Vol. 1. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 239. ISBN978-1-5672-0673-9 – via Google Books.
- Buford Pusser, Sheriff Depicted In ‘Walking Tall’ Film, Is Dead”. The New York